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While you might expect Christmas to be the busiest air travel holiday, studies show Thanksgiving week tends to exceed it. This is likely due to Thanksgiving consistently falling on the last Thursday in November, whereas Christmas is a different weekday each year. Regardless, each holiday is set to be far more hectic than last year.
Recent airline research says 2021 holiday travel is trending to rebound to almost pre-pandemic levels. Although, many people seem to be sitting on plans, waiting to buy tickets until closer to travel dates.
But no matter when you head out and up this season, be prepared for heightened security, airport crowds, potential flight changes, and possible in-airport closures.
Just as our Utah honeymoon and Alaska road trips were affected, car rentals will also be impacted this season. Even if your holiday travel is still up in the air, reserve a refundable rental car now before prices skyrocket or rental fleets are booked up completely!
Whether you’re a frequent flyer or haven’t been on a plane in years, the air travel industry has drastically changed along with the rest of society. You may not like the changes. But if you’re trying to get from point A to B to spend time with loved ones, it’s worth getting in the right mental attitude (and holiday spirit) ahead of time.
To ensure you and your family are efficient and courteous travelers over the next several weeks, we’ve got some holiday travel tips you shouldn’t leave home without.
Holiday Travel Packing List
Depending on your travel group's size, how long your vacation will be, and whether you need to pack Christmas gifts or bulky clothing, you could get away with only bringing a carry-on bag.
Eventually, we plan to get an ultra-condensed and efficient bag like the 24L Cotopaxi backpack (currently $80, but keep an eye out for Black Friday).
Andrew and I are practically pros at condensing our items into duffle bags and backpacks for our trips. This stems from the fear of lost luggage as well as my impatience to wait in an otherwise unnecessary line.
However, if you can’t avoid a checked bag, try putting everyone’s cumbersome items and toiletry kits into one large suitcase. Or, if available (no shade), fly Southwest to cash in on their two free checked bags policy.
As far as clothing, pack minimally. Bring neutral apparel and layers you can mismatch and wear again to have room for other needs in your tote. I try to pack only one pair of shoes besides the ones I wear on the plane, and I keep accessories simple when traveling.
When putting out your travel clothes that you'll wear on the plane, keep in mind your final destination, your arrival time, and whether you tend to be cool or hot while air bound. I would rather be chilly than sweaty, but we all have our preferences.
If you are tech-savvy and need to have all the right gadgets to feel pacified on the plane, don’t forget these essential contraptions:
· Aux cord splitter to watch a movie with someone else
· Noise cancelling earbuds (Andrew believes they’re better than headphones, which can feel more pressurized on your eardrums during altitude changes). These Samsung Galaxy buds are $70 off right now!
· Pre-download music, movies, and audiobooks ahead of time (not all planes are equipped with built-in screens)
· Portable phone charger (in case outlets are scarce in the airport or nonexistent in-flight). Here’s a 2-pack for $20.
When Entering TSA Security Checkpoints
For some reason, smaller airports seem to be the most “thorough” in their security lines. This isn’t to say large airports do not conduct a meticulous search. Rather, local and rural TSA staff have the extra time and therefore take their jobs to next level seriousness.
I’ve been reprimanded for having a few water droplets left in a disposable water bottle that I was saving to refill. Another time, also in a smaller airport, the security personnel rifled through my entire backpack to pull out my fingernail clippers and tweezers.
Sometimes you just might be the (un)lucky pick for a random screening and there was nothing you could do to avoid it.
However, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when entering TSA checkpoints. Even if you pay for TSA PreCheck, not all airports accommodate for it. Best to be prepared to endure the security line, just in case.
1. Take a screenshot of your boarding pass
Not every airline offers mobile boarding passes unless you download their app (I’m looking at you, Allegiant).
But if you do get your boarding passes emailed or downloaded to your phone, it is still best to save them as screenshots to your phone’s gallery. I’ve lost WI-FI and data service a few times as is bound to happen with so many people accessing the servers.
Having the screenshot is a backup so you can quickly scan your pass barcode while handing over your ID.
2. Keep your ID in a pouch or lanyard
Thankfully, the REAL ID deadline has been extended to May 2023. At that point, drivers license cards will not be valid identification to travel. Some states are enhancing drivers’ licenses with the REAL ID stamp. Check with your local DMV to see what is available.
But even if you are traveling domestically, you can use your passport as identification upon entering TSA’s checkpoint.
If you are also trying to pack light and don’t want to dig through a purse for your wallet, try a slim, RFID secure passport and card holder pouch like this one.
Alternatively, you can use a lanyard (like this leather one) for your ID and credit cards to avoid carrying yet another item or misplacing it in a pocket.
3. Wear slip-on shoes or keep shoes loosely laced
I probably don’t need to remind you that an airport floor is gross. Wearing your moccasins for comfort means going barefoot through security and that’s just…ugh.
You also don’t want to be the person everyone is rolling their eyes at for unlacing your combat boots.
Wear socks. Even no-show socks offer some protection from foot traffic filth.
If you want to wear your most comfy tennies or cozy boots, keep them loosely laced to slip on and off through security. Once you’re through, you can always tighten them up.
4. Keep large electronics out or somewhere you can quickly pull them out
Usually, anything under the size of a Tablet or Ipad doesn’t have to be specifically scanned. Phones and music devices can stay in your bag or purse on the conveyor.
Devices like laptops generally need to be removed from their briefcases and scanned separately. To save time in line, have these devices in a convenient slot or already out by the time you reach the plastic bins.
5. Pack all food and toiletry liquids where you can quickly pull them out
If you go the carry-on only route, designate one toiletry bag for all 3.5 oz shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste, like this clear bag that comes with travel sized, refillable containers. Use a similar bag to keep all snacks and food items together as well.
Have both bags on top or in a separate compartment in your carry-on.
Not all security lines will have the same requirements. Their procedures depend on the day and any known security threats.
But this way, if they ask you to remove all food and travel-safe liquids, you’ll be ready to pull them out quickly and place them in a bin.
6. Dress simply
Avoid wearing belts, excessive jewelry, bedazzled apparel, and extra accessories. Not only do you have to remove each article before entering the body scanners, causing delays for yourself and everyone else just as impatient as you to get to your gate, but you have to put them all back on and losing an item is always a risk you take.
I was asked to remove my cotton headband when traveling through Iceland, once, and I never saw it again. I think it fell through the conveyor slots, but we were in too much of a hurry to search for it.
Security doesn’t usually make passengers remove head coverings but if you set off the alarm you might be required to or at least be subject to a pat-down.
Mostly, thin layers like cardigans are fine. But bulky clothing like jackets and parkas will need to be placed in a security bin.
Once You’re in the Airport
Whether you have a layover or you’re just a nervous traveler who would rather have time to kill before your flight, you may find yourself looking for a bite to eat.
Just like a professional sports arena, airport food is pricey. However, due to recent hiring shortages, there’s a new problem to consider.
Andrew and I had a layover in Dallas around 7 PM a few weeks ago. We had to take the tram to a different terminal and decided to wait until we got there to find dinner. The lengthy line at Wendy’s in that first terminal should have been our clue.
All restaurants, even McDonald’s, were either closed or ran out of food! Andrew literally snagged the last pretzel bag available at Auntie Anne’s. I ate some froyo from the only vendor open. The sad part is there were so many other hungry travelers besides us.
Moral of the story, bring your own dry goods and take advantage of free in-flight snacks if your airline is gracious enough to offer them. There’s no guarantee airport restaurants will be available anymore.
Many airlines have changed their in-flight service. Others increased fees for certain seats or carry-on bags. Some airlines hand out wipes while others might actually conduct temperature checks before you board.
To avert surprises, your best bet is to read the recent updates on an airlines’ website.
But here are the basic in-flight travel tips and etiquette to practice to be a courteous holiday traveler this season.
1. Face Masks
Let’s just acknowledge the largest elephant first. When it comes to your flight crew, show respect.
Whether you agree with the mandate or believe in wearing a mask or not is invalid. This isn’t a holiday travel tip as much as it is just a general way to behave. I feel ridiculous that I should even have to say such a thing to adults.
Your flight attendants are the messengers. They are trying to do their job protecting and serving you so they can go home to their families, too.
Wear your mask and shut up about it. Nobody enjoys it! But nobody is going to congratulate you for delaying their flight if you are too stubborn to comply, either.
2. Seat Arrangement
Most airlines give you the option to purchase or select your seats whenever you buy your ticket. Third party sites like Kayak and Priceline, however, usually require you to visit the airline directly after you book the flight.
If you have a nervous bladder, the aisle seat may suit you best. If you get motion sickness easily, a window seat (especially close to the wing) will minimize nausea and turbulence.
Always sit in your designated seat on your boarding pass at first. Letters always start on the left side of the aircraft (your right if you’re walking down the aisle).
I can’t tell you how many times people try to pretend they didn’t realize “B” wasn’t a window seat. Don’t be that guy.
It’s awkward and inconvenient for all of us when I have to explain loud and clear that “A” is in fact my seat at the window and, yes, I have my boarding pass and the diagram above our row to explain it.
If you think you’d like to switch seats with someone, courteously ask if they are willing before bothering the flight attendant. Better yet, talk to the flight agent at the desk before boarding begins at your gate.
On the same recent trip, Andrew and I were wearing our Mr. and Mrs. cotton face masks.
We had not been able to select seats together for that first leg of the trip and were seated a few rows apart initially.
Without us saying a word, the flight attendant approached my husband and asked if he’d like to switch with the person next to me so he could sit with his wife.
That small kindness meant a lot to us. But the point is, we followed the rules first and then our desires were met.
3. Red-Eye Flights and How to Rest
Are you a nervous flyer? Do you find it hard to relax on a flight? I don’t know the statistics, but I’d wager you and 80% of all air travelers are in the same boat, er, plane.
Red-eye and overnight flights feel especially more disorienting than daytime flights. There are some remedies to help your body find comfort, though.
A neck pillow or wrap, like the one below that I use, is underestimated. The natural support will ease your neck and relieve any tension subconsciously built by holding your neck up all flight long. A sleek one with Velcro is easy to attach to your backpack or carry-on, too.
To keep out unwanted, artificial light, pack a sleep mask to cover your eyes (here’s a 3-pack).
Additionally, melatonin and topical essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, or ylang ylang, are natural methods to reduce anxiety. They calm your nerves without throwing off your sleep equilibrium.
Some people like to take Benadryl or Dramamine for both motion sickness and drowsiness. I advise caution with these if you are flying alone or plan to do any driving when you arrive at your destination.
4. Wait Your Turn
This last one is my husband’s greatest pet peeve when flying. As soon as the plane has landed, docked, and the seat belt sign is turned off, people stand up and flood the aisle.
There will always be someone who wants to grab their bags from the overhead bins right away, thus blocking at least one row in the process.
Believe me, we all want to stand up and stretch our legs and make a mad scramble to the bathroom. But just wait your turn.
Now, if you have a connecting flight you need to make a dash for, it’s understandable. Let the flight attendant know so they can clear a path.
Otherwise, you’re just in the way. If you’re in the back, you’ll be waiting a while before everyone else ahead disembarks anyway. Keep the aisle clear and give it just a few more minutes, people.
Holiday Travel Tips and Etiquette: Final Thoughts
Whether you travel solo, with your significant other, a friend group, or your little ones, I hope these basic travel tips will make your holiday travel efficient and thus, more enjoyable.
You all know I'm all about practicality and saving money. Not everyone is as extreme as me and that's absolutely fine. I only want to share what I've learned by experience.
Traveling internationally and on my own several times has taught me how to condense and strategize what I really need on a trip.
I could probably go on about other ways to be a courteous traveler (and human, in general). For instance, don't take up floor space with all your belongings, causing others to have to maneuver around you. Throw away your used food bags and cups...
But, we'll save that rant for another time ;)
Bon voyage and happy holiday season!